Electric and hybrid cars are more likely to hit pedestrians, according to a new report

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Data collected from 32 billion miles of battery-powered car travel and 3 trillion miles of petrol and diesel car trips in the UK has revealed that, mile-for-mile, electric and hybrid vehicles were twice as likely to hit pedestrians when compared to the internal combustion engine vehicles. This number rose to 2.5-times as likely in urban areas.

The study, which was carried out by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), analyzed Road Safety Data (STATS19) datasets that hold all reports of pedestrians injured by collisions with cars or taxis in Great Britain between 2013 and 2017.

The datasets revealed that out of the 96,285 pedestrians who had been hit by a car or taxi, 74% per cent of those were struck by a petrol or diesel car, while just 2% were struck by an electric or hybrid car. 

However, researchers calculated that the average annual casualty rates of pedestrians per 100 million miles for electric or hybrid-electric cars and taxis was twice as likely as accidents involving petrol or diesel engines, with the figures equating to 5.16 accidents per 100 million miles for electric and hybrid, and just 2.40 for petrol or diesel cars and/or taxis.

Phil Edwards, Professor of Epidemiology and Statistics at LSHTM, believes the main reason behind the statistics is simply because electric and hybrid cars are quieter than their petrol or diesel counterparts.

"Given the damaging impacts of air pollution from petrol and diesel cars, overall electric cars are almost certainly better for our health, but our research shows that more needs to be done to reduce the risk they pose to pedestrians, particularly in noisy urban environments,” Edwards said in the new report.

Although the statistics were based on road traffic accidents in the UK, a 2017 study by the US Department of Transportation found that electric and hybrid cars posed a 20% higher risk to pedestrians than petrol and diesel cars, and a 50% higher risk during low-speed moves, such as turning, reversing, starting into traffic and pulling to a stop, according to The Guardian.

Analysis: the sound of silence

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The study conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) only analyzed UK travel and road accident data from 2013 to 2017, with the paper’s lead author, Phil Edwards, stating that numbers from 2018 weren’t available due to "an archiving problem".

Since July 2019, all new hybrid and electric vehicles sold in Europe have been legally required to be fitted with an external acoustic system that plays a sound when the EV in question is operating at low speeds. Due to the lack of accident data, it is difficult to say whether incidents with pedestrians have reduced thanks to this initiative.

What’s more, there are substantially more electric and hybrid vehicles on the road now than there were in 2017, when the statistics used by the paper’s authors ran out. Although we have no empirical data to back it up, we predict that pedestrians are arguably now more aware of quieter electric and hybrid vehicles than they were seven years ago.

"If you’re moving to an electric car, remember it’s a new kind of vehicle," Phil Edward told The Guardian. "They are much quieter than the old-fashioned cars, and pedestrians have learned to navigate roads by listening for traffic. Drivers of these vehicles need to be extra cautious." Sound advice, we'd say.

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Leon Poultney

Leon has been navigating a world where automotive and tech collide for almost 20 years, reporting on everything from in-car entertainment to robotised manufacturing plants. Currently, EVs are the focus of his attentions, but give it a few years and it will be electric vertical take-off and landing craft. Outside of work hours, he can be found tinkering with distinctly analogue motorcycles, because electric motors are no replacement for an old Honda inline four.